teaching english


A quick hello and goodbye here, in the Italian fashion. We’re off tomorrow to ride bikes around Tuscany, putting my recent half-hearted gym training to the test. (Actually, I did all right in the gym… just being hard on myself as usual.)

I’m only halfway through the Congo River posts, but have given you A LOT to read already and can see that more time might be a good thing for both you and me. Besides, I’m almost out of my monthly internet allotment already! Couldn’t finish now even if I tried.

In other news, it was hard to say “ciao” today to my English students. Goodbye, but this time for good. I’ve spent the past five years teaching as a volunteer, and am ready to move on to other things. It’s bittersweet to say goodbye, though. There are a few who aren’t really interested in much besides what gifts they can get from me, but the vast majority are very sweet people who only want to learn. I will miss these guys! They have made my life here in Congo much more complete.

Today we had a little graduation party, as we wrapped up our Michel Thomas series and I passed out certificates for those who managed 60% or better attendance over the past 15 months. (There might have been cookies and a few other little surprises, too, but don’t tell anybody.)

I’d also like to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my mom today! Hope Rudy treats you to a night out on the town; wish I could be there to bake you some cookies. And HAPPY FATHER’S DAY this weekend to Dad, Rudy, Réjean, Ryan, Frédéric, and all you other fabulous dads out there! May you sit around under a tree all day, drinking beer or moonshine or palm wine, while your womenfolk bring you everything you need. (But just that one day, okay? Otherwise that shit will make you lazy.)


Nerd Humor, and other Untranslatable Things

I wore this t-shirt yesterday in honor of NASA’s historic fly-by of our favorite dwarf planet. Something which I most likely would have missed in the weekly news over here if it weren’t for my super smart, scientifically-minded, space-news-following husband. I’m giving it a good try, though. Lately we’ve been settling down in the evenings for our second viewing of last year’s DVD purchase, Cosmos with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Despite watching an entertaining host and a highly-produced extravaganza of color and special effects, complete with cartoon demonstrations for the imaginatively challenged, not to mention having learned some of these things in school once upon a time… I remain utterly, hopelessly lost. The music and graphics oddly put me in the mood to visit Epcot Center, make me hungry for funnel cake, and then put me right to sleep. This science stuff might as well be fiction to me.

Not to say I’m not a nerd; I totally am. Just a capital-memorizing, building-databases-in-my-spare-time kind of a nerd, not a nerd with, you know, the slightest ability to understand algebra or astrophysics. Yet even I can find this t-shirt funny.

Continue reading

Till You Find Your Dream

For my Mom, who loves loves loves the Sound of Music. And for Carolyn, who is expecting her first great-grandbaby any day now. Happy Mother’s Day to you both, and all you other fabulous moms out there!

Last month, just before leaving on our super-fantastic adventure to South Africa & Lesotho, my little lunchtime English class turned four years old. Four years, wow! There aren’t many jobs I’ve wanted to hold onto for four years in a row before. Who knew that the trick was making sure I worked for free?

Continue reading

Doorbells and Sleigh Bells and Schnitzel with Noodles

We started studying The Sound of Music back in January, and we’ve only just now reached My Favorite Things, not even an hour into the movie. Which turned out to be a real challenge to teach. Maria makes several references to winter activities—warm woolen mittens, snowflakes, silver-white winters that melt into springs—that just don’t make much sense here in equatorial Africa. Even after translating the words into French to make them easier to understand, they weren’t any easier to understand. Someone thought they had seen un traîneau (a sleigh) once, but it was just a children’s toy. I tried to explain it could also be a real vehicle pulled by horses over snow. At that point all eyes glazed over.

Continue reading

How Do You Solve a Problem Like…

So I’m currently teaching to the tune of The Sound of Music in my ESL class. It’s a little reward for my students—though I suppose my use of that word depends on whether you like the musical or not—after having followed strict grammar lessons for more than a year. It took us that long to get through the whole series of Michel Thomas’ Apprendre Anglais. Which was a great experience. But it’s one thing to practice drills, quite another to listen to a movie in a foreign language and be able to follow along.

I knew my students were itching to try out their new Anglophile ears, so I took a look through my DVD library. The Sound of Music was an easy choice. The language is fairly slow, simple, easy to understand; it’s semi-religious which is a big hit around here; it can hardly be considered inappropriate, at least as some of our other movies might; and the catchy songs are bound to stick in your head. (For months on end… trust me.) What better way to rehearse vocabulary and word combinations over and over again than with a song stuck inside your head?? Continue reading

Teaching English (or Trying To)

A company contact (and friend) asked me one evening at a social function if I’d like to volunteer part-time as an English teacher. She knew of three guys who were looking for a little help, but for some reason couldn’t use the company’s training department. She thought one of us expat wives might enjoy a project a couple times a week, and knew I was looking for ways to get involved. So I was happy to say yes.

That first class was April 19, 2011, over three years ago! I can’t believe how time flies. It started off as a twice-a-week sort of thing but then quickly grew; by September 2012 I was teaching five days a week, and today I still am. The numbers vary pretty widely as people come and go, but today on average I would say I have about eight regular students. That’s a good number; about as many as our little picnic table can hold. Continue reading

The Culture Shock of Children’s Stories

Do you remember The Three Little Bears and Little Red Riding Hood stories? I’m using them as teaching aides in my English classes with Congolese adult students. They’re the only books I can get my hands on that have simple French & English side by side. At first I thought they would resent having to read children’s books in class, but we’ve encountered quite different problems. For starters, bears and wolves and riding hoods are completely foreign to them. And many times the English sentence is phrased in an old-fashioned, unnatural way. But today, I realized an even greater cultural divide.

Continue reading